Oh dear me. This is a stunt comic. This is Marvel's tribute, according to the final page, to the 'men and women who serve, have served and will serve in Iraq and Afghanistan with bravery and honor'.
God bless Marvel for trying to do a good thing. But I wish they'd think these things through a tad more. In order to provide a poignant ending to this tale - and yes, I'm spoiling more than I like to in a review, but it's necessary - Flash Thompson has his legs amputated in Iraq.
What's that, you say, didn't Flash Thompson serve in Vietnam? Wasn't he last seen working at Midtown High as a PE teacher? Yes, well, forget the Vietnam thing; comic book logic demands that while his previous stints in the military are referenced here, the details are glossed over. All we need to know is that as of Brand New Day he's re-enlisted to do his bit.
So, as the issue begins, Flash is in an army hospital, telling his tale to a general who's gathering information to justify the medal the US plans to award him. Interspersed with his story of self-sacrifice are non-narrated memory images showing that Flash has been inspired by Spider-Man every step of the way. So hey, despite the jettisoning of regular storylines, characters and milieu for the sake of a stunt story, this is a Spider-Man issue after all.
Poor old Flash. Marvel's apparent desperation to find some character they can involve in Iraq has seen him not only sent back to a hot zone years after he's been discharged, but maimed to boot. What's he meant to do back in the US? In real life it would be years of agonising rehabilitation. Likely Marvel, not being deliberately crass, will follow this path too, but readers will always be wondering: when will Flash be tempted to let Dr Octopus make him cybernetic legs? Surely Doc Connors could help him grow new limbs with lizard serum? And so on.
For Flash (an off-colour scene this issue 'explains' how he got the nickname) is not an ordinary soldier, like Army medic Jim Guering, whom editor Stephen Wacker writes about in a text piece. He belongs to the fantasy world of the Marvel universe, and if he's going to earn his keep as a supporting character, he must be fully involved in Spider-Man's world. And that means embracing the wacky.
'Flashbacks' isn't actually a bad story, taken on its own terms. Writer Mark Guggenheim, artists Barry Kitson, Mark Farmer and the rest of the creative team have worked hard on this issue, researching the scenery, uniforms, tech and so on. Craftsmen all, they provide a good-looking, entertaining - if predictable - read. And were this a special produced purely for armed forces distribution, I'd be all over it like a rash. But it's not, it's an out-of-nowhere chapter in the life of Flash Thompson.